Influence and Impact: Social Media Driving Change in India

July 6, 2009

Advancements and globalization of digital platforms and social media technologies is empowering people across the globe to participate, and share content online. India has experienced technology as a vehicle in aiding social change through social media.  The growth of social media outlets is changing behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes as the ease and growth of online social technologies induce audiences to become digital activists; changing user behavior from passive to active, non-participatory to avid participation, and enabling users with a voice that was otherwise unknown or untapped.  The power of social media and its impacts on individuals, businesses, and society in India has provided an equal opportunity to voice thoughts, opinions, and share information. The increase of usage and ease of entry provides an attractive interface for anyone to become a creator or advocate of information and ideas by using blogs, micro-blogs, social sharing, and networking sites.

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 Social Media for Peer to Peer: The popularity of social networks has created a new trend of social sharing where individuals can recommend to groups of people products, services, information and ideas. The online peer-influence factor virally spreads as visible feedback channels engage, encourage and promote peers to be more participative and interact.  It’s no surprise that micro-blogging sites like Twitter share the breaking news faster than the traditional media channels, as more and more people are using it not only for live streaming of their personal events but most importantly as an information sharing medium and a collective knowledge sharing channel with other people across the world.

Social Media for Business to Consumer: For brands and marketers, social media introduces both opportunities and challenges. Brands are now able to listen to and address both compliments and complaints made by fellow or future consumers enabling the brand or marketer to respond to and interact with the public.   In India, eight out of 10 people from urban areas who buy cars use the internet to search for information on brands and products before making a purchase. A major driver for businesses to use the social media marketing is the low-cost model compared to traditional marketing channels. Predictions for Business to Consumer marketing via social media in India indicates that more marketers will be adopting social media strategies as a new marketing medium and engagement channel to interact with current and prospective consumers.  For businesses in India, monitoring social interaction behaviors, brand reputation, and current and prospective consumer expectations will help the company to build long-term relationships, create loyal communities of brand advocates, and engage in a dialogue with people interested in the product, brand, or service.

Social Media for Social Change: Social media has empowered people in Indian society to spread perspectives on social causes and change, participation in digital activisms, and support and information sharing in crisis situations. Cultural adoption and availability/understanding of technology prove to be an obstacle for many in underdeveloped areas of India.

Social Media and Behavior: The increase in the use of social media sites will allow for researchers to observe the behaviors of the population engaging in social media. Understanding behaviors will allow for researchers and businesses to track behavioral change patterns, market trends, content consumption patterns, and social changes through technology. Through better placement of advertisements to targeted audiences, monitoring behaviors via social media will help companies reduce the total number of ads served for the same or better result, thus reducing costs. In addition, through web analytics and modeling derived from website user behavior companies will be able to translate the data into actionable business intelligence that can be implemented to deliver better results.

Predictions for Social Media in India:

Text-Based Social Media: Mobile text and application capabilities, such as SMS and Twitter, are becoming more affordable and available, thus adoption of mobile social networking across India increasing. Subscriber growth in India will continue, driven by rural expansion, entry of newer operators, 3G and cheaper handsets. Flat-rate data plans will also accelerate the use of mobile media. InformationWeek has projected a significant transformation in Media, Technology & Telecommunications over the next 10 years because of Wireless Social Networking Revolution. Technology, Media & Telecom represents approximately 5% of global GDP, and with the growing population in India, Indians are expected to have a better chance of capitalizing on developing social media mobile trends.

“Citizen Journalism” : The power of citizen journalism became ever so present during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.  Indian media has been increasingly willing to integrate citizen journalism in its news coverage and India is expected to see a continuation of these trends throughout 2009.

Indian General Elections: Social media, online and mobile, will serve as an inflection point in the general elections in India. Interaction with the younger generations in India has launched a popularity and engagement to “get out the vote”. Specifically, Twitter and other mobile based applications will play an important role in future general elections, both in the campaigning and in the coverage of the elections.


Social Media Connectedness in India

July 5, 2009

Foreign companies looking to enter the exploding Indian Social Media realm have surprisingly few country-specific leaders to follow. In the “India Social Media Survey Report – Edition 1,” http://www.blogworks.in and http://www.exchange4media.com found that only 15% of Indian marketers/companies had a fairly good understanding (at best) of the Social Media environment and impacts.

Of course, the proverbial wheel has already been invented elsewhere. Can companies simply use tactics that work well elsewhere (e.g., the U.S.) in India? The answer may depend upon how universally held this idea is:

  • Social Media brings disconnected people together, allowing them to overcome busy schedules, geographic distances, and otherwise compartmentalized and complex lives to communicate with one another. It also breaks down the walls between individuals and corporations, creating the opportunity for true conversation.

What if people in India are not as disconnected from one another in their non-digital lives as they are in the U.S.? Would real-world connectedness alter the way they behaved in Social Media interactions with companies? In an interview about Social Media between Kamla Bhatt and the authors of the above referenced survey, Anurag Batra and Rajesh Lalwani, the following point was made:

“Indians engage so much with each other offline, online it does not play that important a role as it does in many of the western countries where offline engagement may in fact be less.”

Facebook and Orkut are certainly popular in India, so there’s clearly a desire to continue offline community online. But if we see Social Media interconnectedness in India as a continuation rather than replacement, it follows that social media interactions between individuals and corporations that leverage offline brand touchpoints might be the best approach in that country.

-Gregg Rapaport


Communicate where your customers live

July 5, 2009
gup shup

Communicate in your customers channels.

Breaking into a new global market using social media requires more than just finding your target audience it requires finding the right channels where your customers are having their conversations.

For example in India Twitter and Facebook have a large market penetration but the Western sites don’t reach all users in India. SMSGupShup is an instant message service similar to Twitter that has 20 million users up from 7 million last year. The SMS service charges a variable fee for sending text messages and unlike Twitter is creating revenue each month.

SMSGupShup is the world’s largest and fastest growing social messaging platform and accounts for 400 million monthly text messages, around 5 percent of the total Indian market. India’s has 400 million mobile phone users.

For global brands wanting to penetrate new markets companies need to find the right channels and communicating where your customers exist.


Model Citizen

July 5, 2009

The use of mobile technology has made India into the Model Citizen (journalist). In November of last year, gun shots were fired in theTaj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai. The images of the terrorist acts were captured and shared via mobile technology. The devastation from the terrorist act transformed India into the model of how technology is transforming people into citizen journalists, adding a new dimension to the news media.

The cameras and phones carried by people swept up in the attacks were not subject to any such rules. Mr. Shanbhag photographed one of the fires at the Taj hotel and the wreckage outside a popular cafe that was attacked on Wednesday and posted them on his Flickr stream. Some people transmitted video from inside the Taj hotel to news networks via cellphones. And reporters used cellphones to send text messages to hotel guests who had set up barricades in their rooms.”

It is no coincidence that India is the perfect case study for citizen journalism. There are over 400 million mobile phones in use in India, making it the second largest country with the number of mobile phones, behind only China but ahead of the United States. As the terrorist attack escalated, US news coverage was basically nonexistent as a result of major financial cuts on foreign news desks. CNN was the only major news network to have a reporter on the ground; thus, making mobile phones the best way to capture the images of the assaults.

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Beyond the visual imagery, people began micro-blogging through their Twitter accounts about the events, using their mobile phones. Twitter uses a SMSes of the mobile phones and, with over 6 million subscribers at the time, it made Mumbai the perfect storm to cover for citizen journalists to emerge.

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Beyond Mumbai, companies and news organizations can empower the citizens of India to boast about brands, capture images, report the news and have conversations within India. It is likely news organizations will create platforms like iReport.com on CNN and track stories through conversation on social media tools like Twitter. Channel V, the Asian MTV, has tried to mobilize young adults through www.myindiareport.in/.

Reuters is using mobile phones to provide a subscription service to farmers in rural India, where they can obtain a more accurate price on their crops by dispatching reporters into the region to report the right information at the right time to ensure success of what’s occurring with the global market. This sort of platform can level the playing field and spur economic growth.

What is even more amazing is the current infrustructure and the capacity for growth for mobile phones is still huge with only 35 percent of the market actually owning one. Social media and active citizens reporting the news is still in its infancy in India, but the potential is limitless with the number of mobile phones already introduced in the market place. Marketers and news organizations would be foolish not to recognize the potential to harness mobile technology to empower the people of India.


Twitter, Citizen Journalism, and the Mumbai Attacks

July 5, 2009

Last year, the world saw how citizen journalists used Twitter to report on the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai as they unfolded. In addition to learning about the attacks, the public also learned about the power that individuals can have to communicate information to a large audience.

Twitter became the most useful source of real-time information about the attacks, according to blogger Gaurav Mishra, and the number of posts jumped to as many as 1,000 in an hour on the day of the attacks. The Daily Telegraph stated that there were up to 70 Tweets every five seconds at one point.  (The Times of India reported two million unique website visits from readers looking for information on the attacks.)

Snapshot of volume of Twitter posts during Mumbai attacks. Source: gauravonomics.com

Snapshot of volume of Twitter posts during Mumbai attacks. Source: gauravonomics.com

“Twitter quickly become the de facto source for on-ground intelligence for mainstream media, and the few citizen journalists on-site in Mumbai become in-demand pundits overnight,” Mishra wrote.

A day after the attacks, international organizations were covering the social media element of the attacks, in addition to the attacks themselves. Mishra states that while most Indians were getting their information about the attacks through Indian television networks, the world was getting the information from the Twitter posts.

Although Twitter has shown to be a very useful tool to communicate short bursts of information in real-time, there are also drawbacks. During the terror attacks last year, media around the world were relying on messages sent via Twitter to learn more about the unfolding situation. Unfortunately, the immediacy of such lightning fast communication in a chaotic, stressful situation also resulted in confusion when contradictory or incorrect information was tweeted. News organizations were reporting confirmed and unconfirmed reports, including CNN and the The Daily Telegraph. Both restated unconfirmed reports that the Indian government asked Twitter users to stop sending messages (the Telegraph said the report was “alleged”). The report was never attributed to a named source, and the BBC included it on a blog post discussing myths surrounding coverage of the attacks and the use of social media tools as part of the reporting.

smsgupshupThough not widely reported here, users of SMSGupShup, a leading India-based SMS-based service similar to Twitter, also posted their own updates. Company CEO Beerud Shuth has said the service has over 20 million local users.

In a crisis, individuals and organizations often need to rely on the most expedient method of communicating important information and obtaining help. Increasingly, that means the use of social media tools.  Because these tools are relatively new and evolving, the rules for using them are changing daily, with organizations trying to balance the need to provide accurate and timely information against the need to keep up with technology.  

The usefulness of Twitter as an information dissemination tool cannot be denied. As its use increases, it is important that corporate and government organizations (including first-responders), along with mainstream news organizations, continue to update their codes of conduct and operating procedures to incorporate Twitter-use policies, and for organizations to use and produce information judiciously.


Indian Youth, the Future of the Internet

July 5, 2009

 indiaIndia is the 7th largest country by geographical area, the 2nd most populous country and the most populous democracy in the world. According to Comscore, Over 28 million people in India, age 15 and older, accessed the net from home and work locations in May 2008 — a 27 percent increase from a year ago. Those age 15-24 were the heaviest internet users among all age segments, spending nearly 12 hours online per month on average.

Web sites, blogs and social networking sites are being utilized by Indian youth with online access to learn about new products and new trends. Windchimes Communications, a social media agency based India, recently conducted a survey representative of 3 Indian cities; Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, which asked the following question.

How much time do you spend everyday on blogs, social networking and uploading photos and videos?

 © Windchimes Communications Pvt Ltd Based on this survey more than 1/3rd of the respondents spend more than 30 minutes everyday on social media sites. Currently, the social networking space in India is a two horse race with Orkut and Facebook holding most of the market share. Facebook recently added six new Indian languages (Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu) and the company hopes this will help close the gap between it and Orkut. Several Indian social networking sites exist but they do not have nearly as much traffic.

“In India the young person’s influence in family purchase decisions is high. Anything to do with technology? He is God. The decision of which brand of mobile phone, flat-screen TV or two-wheeler to buy can be swayed by the resident youth in the family.”
Aarti Joshi, Lecturer, Shri Leuva Patel Trust Sanchalit MBA Mahila College

Consumerism, or the desire to consume, is rampant among Indian youth. Indeed, the youth market (14-25 years) is the largest consumer segment in India. Indian youth currently hold a massive $2.8 billion in discretionary income.

This means that companies and brands that want to be successful in India must target youth as one of their primary audiences, and they will need to have significant online presence to ensure that users find them when they are searching or researching online. Just having a web presence won’t be enough – if companies really want to engage consumers they must have a presence in communities, discussion forums, blogs and on networking sites that cater to youth.


Can social media be the great equalizer in India?

July 5, 2009

Look inside any college classroom in the United States and you may very well find a student from India. The second most populous country in the world ranks number one in the number of international students in the United States. The most recent study by the International Institute of Education found that India sends nearly 95,000 students to the U.S. to study.

Nearly 95,000 Indians study at U.S. colleges

Nearly 95,000 Indians study at U.S. colleges

In America, the opportunity to pursue a college degree cuts across all boundaries—racial, social, and cultural. Community colleges are open access, allowing anyone who wants to learn to have the opportunity to earn a college degree. Federal financial aid helps put college within reach of the most needy. Historically black colleges and universities offer greater opportunities for African American students.

Despite India’s great strides in technology and innovation, a college education is not a given. The separation between the haves and the have-nots often times comes down to a person’s caste. For Americans, the caste system is complicated and confusing. I personally have quizzed my Indian friends to try and understand the system, but I still can’t fathom why this seemingly outdated classification continues to persist even in these modern times.

The statistics are startling. As recent as 2000, the fifth class known as the Dalits (or “untouchables”) had only 5 percent of its male population as college graduates. For women, the percentage of college graduates was 1.67.

Stories abound about the discrimination Dalits and other lower castes face in schools and in society, but the country’s own Constitution outlaws such treatment and the courts have backed it up.

The caste system still exists in India

The caste system still exists in India

Hope may be on the horizon for social media and technology to become the “great equalizer.” Cell phones are becoming commonplace in India with tens of millions of people from all classes paying hard earned money for the chance to communicate. While Internet use is strongest in the cities, the country’s overall usage continues to grow and the cell phones provide an affordable tool for accessing social media.

Blogger and writer Gadi Amit sees mobile phones (don’t call them cell phones, he says) as the tool that could literally connect the entire world. As he sees it,

“for roughly $100-200B, we could guarantee that all of humanity is connected, accounted for, and enjoying digital life, regardless of gender, race or national origin.”

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By giving everyone a mobile phone, regardless of their caste or their income, Amit believes seven areas would greatly benefit:
• Government
• Social policy
• Emergency
• Medical
• Education
• Commerce
• Global economic recovery

Brahmin community on Orkut

Brahmin community on Orkut

But before you get out your checkbook to buy the world mobile phones, blogger
Gaurav Mishra gives some thoughtful considerations about the caste system inside of social media. Orkut, the top social media site in India and conveniently available on a mobile phone, has a large number of caste-based groups, allowing Indians to perpetuate their caste society and stratification.

I went into my research on India believing that social media could provide the country’s citizens with an opportunity to develop friendships beyond societal boundaries, but it seems that social media will only go so far. It will take each citizen’s own actions online and in-person to truly dissolve the centuries-old system and build a caste-less society. For any company headed to India, romantic notions of their brand crossing caste lines must be tempered with reality. It can be done… just look at the mobile phones… but there is no guarantee.